The Defence Select Committee have today released their report of inquiry into the MoD's Future Army 2020 plan. Amid the concerns about the strategy of increasing the proportion of reservists in relation to regular forces (read Defence Committee press release), the report calls on the MoD “to respond in detail to the argument that the Army could phase out the recruitment of minors without detriment to the Army 2020 plans”.
ForcesWatch, Child Soldiers International and the Peace Pledge Union all submitted evidence detailing the arguments for raising the age of recruitment to 18 in line with international standards. The UK is the only country in the EU to still recruit at 16 years. You can read the submissions here.
The Defence Committee report highlights our arguments that raising the age of recruitment will:
- save approximately £94 million per year on training and recruitment
- increase operational effectiveness, including improving the ratio of deployable personnel
- have a positive effect on recruits’ education and long-term career prospects
- reduce incidence of mental health problems amongst soldiers and veterans
- ensure “the best interests of the child” are prioritised, in line with international legal obligations
Our recent research has shown that those who enlist below this age are at higher risk of injury in training, suicide, bullying, sexual harassment, mental illness, alcoholism, long-term unemployment, and violent offending than recruits who enlist as adults. For more detail see the reports One Step Forward, The Last Ambush and Mind the Gap.
This is just the latest challenge to the MoD to justify the recruitment of 16 and 17 year olds to come from within Parliament itself. In October 2013, the Defence committee report The Armed Forces Covenant in Action? Part 4: Education of Service Personnel, asked why the Army was "so dependent on recruiting personnel under the age of 18 years compared with the other two Services". The Government undertook to conduct a cost-benefit analysis but today's report complains about the slow progress of this study, the lack of clarity over its terms of reference, and questioned how its findings would be independently verified. In Defence Committee (2005) and the Joint Committee on Human Rights (2010) as well as the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and many civil organisations and faith groups in the UK have called for a review of the situation.
As, Richard Clarke, Director of Child Soldiers International points out (see press release), the Defence Committee, "despite its concerns about current armed forces personnel figures, disputes the necessity and desirability of enlisting minors”,
The report states that it expects the cost-benefit analysis to be 'thorough and robust' - we have echoed that call in correspondence with the MoD along with our concern that such a review must take into account all the issues that we and others have raised. The wider costs of recruiting under 18s and the longer-term benefits of an all adult recruitment policy must be part of the picture.